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Pole to Pole

Day 41: Odessa to Istanbul

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleUp on deck at 7.45. To my horror, Felix is there and appears to be having a fit. He's standing half naked with eyes rolling and hands flapping wildly out in front of him. Only after a while do I realize he's doing his exercises. He smiles in my direction, a grotesque rictus of a smile which virtually slices his head in two. Fortunately this turns out to be another exercise.

I'm beginning to wonder if this is a Soviet ship at all. There is Peter Gabriel on the PA and porridge on the breakfast menu. Among the passengers is an eighteen-year-old girl from Ilkley, travelling with her brother who has been studying in Moscow for a year. They have just returned from a trip to Lake Baikal in Siberia, the deepest lake in the world, so far miraculously unpolluted. Their descriptions of its beauty, purity and tranquillity I found very tantalizing.

There are fifty-four crew on the Junost, ten more than there are passengers. The first officer who told us this is engagingly frank. If he had his way he wouldn't stay in the Soviet Union. He worked once with Norwegians and they asked him how much he was paid in the USSR.

'"A hundred and thirty dollars," I said. "Per day?" they asked. "No! Per month."' He smiles wryly at this. I suggest that 130 dollars buys you a lot more in the Soviet Union than in Norway. He doesn't fall for that old one.

'I would rather live in expensive Norway.'

I'm growing fond of the Junost. Life on board has an innocent, anarchic quality. It's rather like being in a Monsieur Hulot film. A man in swimming trunks claiming to be the chief electrical officer bumps into me on the main staircase. He's dripping wet from a shower but anxious to know if we're happy with everything. I ask him why we are only going at nine knots. He drips a little and considers the question.

'Well, who wants to go any faster?'
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 41
  • Country/sea: Black Sea
  • Place: Black Sea
  • Book page no: 90

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